Tributes have been paid to Zaha Hadid from across the world, following her recent untimely death. Here Cristiano Luchetti Assistant Professor, College of Architecture, Art and Design at the American University of Sharjah offers his personal thoughts on her legacy.
There is no doubt that the recent passing away of Zaha Hadid has been a world-renowned event. Equally famous architects, the world of social networks, magazines, and all the media unanimously recognised a dutiful tribute to one of the most important figures in contemporary architecture.
The architectural production of Zaha Hadid is huge. More than 950 projects in 44 countries done in a relatively short amount of time. From her early mostly theoretical work, immediately after her education at the Architectural Association, to the latest major awards, such as the Pritzker and the RIBA Royal Gold Medal and Stirling prizes conferred for important built projects, Zaha showed a consistent research that led her to become possibly the most “recognizable” architectural designer nowadays.
More than writing about the spatial quality of specific buildings I am interested in trying to understand the contribution that she made to architecture as tool for the transformation of our built environment, and what is her most important, and for some controversial, legacy. It is evident that the more significant aspect of her work is the foundation of an absolutely original formal/spatial language.
The evolution of her research path started being influenced by constructivist/supremacists references which can be found in the project for the Peak Leisure club in Hong Kong in 1982. The worldwide recognition of her stature became evident when she was invited to be part of the important exhibition “Deconstructivist Architecture” in New York, in 1988. A
mong others, as benchmark project of that period I would mention the Vitra fire station. Finally, the advent of computer aided technologies and their implementation in the search for innovative architectural solutions led her to the latest stage of the career.
The adoption of “Parametricism” as tool to generate design strategies allowed Zaha to develop a spatial and formal research totally liberated from previous cultural or historical heritages. Moreover, the traditional experience of spaces as sequence of visual frames was overcome by her architecture by proposing a fluid narrative.
Such rapid advancement of digital technologies fostered, in her work, the realization of an expressive dimension which some may describe as a “Style” (a noun which has been often bitterly contested throughout history). Zaha became the “Queen of the curve”.
I believe that when a designer conceives a project which is alien to its specific context, the outcome often responds to a personal stylistic (and in some cases conceptual) approach. Very subjective indeed.
The first victim of this operation is the vision for a coherent “assembly of the city”: a set of building and transforming events, spatial and functional contributions that elucidates the human expression of living (from Latin habere: to have, to hold). Living is the process of “appropriation” of spaces in which the society is recognized and manifests itself.
If a style is imposed to a context, the project promotes a preconceived “brand” which then, if the building is of a certain scale, sublimates in “Monumentalism”. A monument, has the ability to stand out from the background. It is always an exception, an urban event instantly recognizable and so are many of Zaha’s buildings.
It is true that her approach to existing contexts was certainly more sophisticated than a superficial reading might suggests. She spoke of “aggressive contextualism”, implementing, almost as it would be in an augmented reality, the potential of the existing landscape or urban contexts through the presence of the building.
I believe that the most important legacy of Zaha Hadid’s work does not lies in the fascinating and sinuous spatial complexity of her buildings for which she was internationally celebrated. Instead, I find more important the role her projects play in their respective contexts.
From Zaha onwards, it seems to be legitimized (by her many imitators who often do not capture her sophisticated design approach) the aspiration for a distinguishable “brand”, for a signature. A sort of a “fashion architecture” that imposes its ontological presence rather than constructing relationships with the open system of our contemporary cities and landscapes.